The Baptism Debate: Believers or Babies?

Scriptures: Matthew 28:19-20

“Why, there are those who pretend to save souls by curious tricks, intricate manoeuvres, and dexterous posture-making! A basin of water, half-a-dozen drops, certain syllables—heigh, presto—the infant is made a child of God, a member of Christ, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven!” (Spurgeon, The Soul Winner).

You can feel Spurgeon’s annoyance here. The idea of baptism being a means by which one is saved angered him. He called it “priestcraft” (meaning a form of witchcraft invented by priests). He called it magic from the “Wizard of the North” and “occult science” developed through the succession of Judas Iscariot. Yea, he had some strong things to say about this.

Our journey through the baptism debate has allowed us to look closely at the method of baptism, which is to submerge, as well as the motive of baptism, which is to symbolize. That is to say that we have examined the how and the why of baptism. Now, we will immerse ourselves in the who.
It might go without saying—that is, if you have been following along so far—that Scripture gives us undeniable reasons to baptize only those who have first believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; those who manifestly show their ability to understand the gospel and make a conscience effort to surrender to the Lord.

Nevertheless, there are some who practice infant baptism (or paedobaptism) and some who practice believer’s baptism (or credobaptism). A case may easily be made from the other two articles that credobaptism better symbolizes the spiritual reality—namely, being buried and raised to new life in Christ. But, let’s see who the early disciples of Christ baptized to be sure.

The Evidence of Believer’s Baptism

Let’s turn the narratives first. On the day the church was formed, Peter proclaimed the gospel to a large body of Jewish people who gathered from all over the known world. It was the Day of Pentecost. Acts 2:41 says that a multitude “who received his word were baptized.” That is, they took the gospel as their own. They believed it, trusted it, and were baptized.

The same pattern is found in Acts 8:12. “They believed Philip as he preached the good news” and “they were baptized, both men and women,” but not infants. Acts 8:36 details the story of the Eunuch who said after he believed the gospel, “what prevents me from being baptized?” It was a good question. What does prevent him? Only belief. His point was this, “I believe and I am now saved, so why not be baptized now?”

Even Paul was baptized after his conversion, not as an infant (Acts 9:18). Those who believed in Cornelius’ house were baptized (Acts 10:47-48). Also, those in Lydia’s house (Acts 16:14-15), the Philippian jailer’s house (Acts 16:31-34), and Crispus with those at Corinth (Acts 18:18). In each of these accounts, only those who believed were baptized. Conversely, in no accounts were babies baptized.

The Command of Believer’s Baptism

In fact, the command of Christ to all His disciples is to baptize believers. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus charges us to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Who is them? It is those who are made disciples, those who have believed the gospel.

A disciple is one who surrenders his life to Jesus. He is a worshipper and witness for Christ. The word “disciple” describes someone who adheres to the teachings of Jesus. He is a follower, a learner, one who takes up the ways of his master. Only one who can willfully and informatively conform himself to the way of Christ is a disciple—something no infant can do.

An infant, who is unable to understand the gospel is also unable to believe the gospel. It would be unreasonable to assume that an infant has been born again when he or she has only recently been born the first time. Baptizing infants is unwarranted and confusing. The baptism of believers is Scriptural and best communicates the truth it represents. For these reasons, water baptism should be reserved for only those who are old enough to believe and show signs of genuine salvation (which is a careful matter all to itself).

Don’t cause Spurgeon to turn in his grave. Baptize believers, not infants.